The following article was entered in the 2018 Blog Writing competition run by HouseSitMatch.com and won first prize! I’ve recreated it here so my readers can enjoy it too. Thanks to everyone who voted for us.
“There’s no way I’m getting in that” says Eddie – not in so many words but rather by the fearful look in her eye as she tucks her tail firmly between her legs and retreats to a safe distance.
I’d just brought home the flight crate she was going to travel in from our home on Cyprus to start a new life as international housesitters on the European mainland. But over the coming weeks, as I coax her with treats, this object of dread transforms into a safe haven that she willingly climbs into once the big day arrives.
We land in Rome early one autumn morning. The sun is just rising over the Appennine mountains, setting the sky on fire with all the ferocity normally reserved for a sunset. What a glorious welcome from the country with which I have long had an unrequited love affair.
Driving in Italy
We collect a hire car and launch into the chaotic rush hour traffic. Italians are not so much bad drivers as completely crazy ones who seem to urge each other on by driving bumper to bumper. I decide to stick to the inside lane and keep a safe distance from the car in front but this quickly proves futile. Whatever gap I leave is immediately filled by some lunatic squeezing an Alfa Romeo in where even a Fiat 500 ought to fear to tread. Somehow though I make it across the country to our destination in Le Marche in one piece. Finally we get to meet the homeowner – and soon to be friend – Annie.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
Our three months in Le Marche fly by yet at the same time, our previous life in Cyprus soon feels like a half-remembered dream. Eddie and Mac, our canine client, form an instant bond and their friendship becomes the rhythm of my days. We take long morning walks, home-cooked meals, a roaring log fire in the evening and a nightly race up the stairs to grab a share of the bed.
The intervening hours are spent exploring the many hilltop towns that punctuate this landscape. By day they look like so many castles, each commanding the countryside around them. By night their lights give them the appearance of ships floating in a sea of inky blackness beneath the stars. On closer inspection I discover architecture as fine as any Venice has to offer. The surprise advantage is that there are no tourists spoiling photo opportunities. And the coffee is cheaper too.
My Italian improves. As does my French, thanks to the international set of neighbours I discover tucked away in the nooks and crannies of this rolling landscape. Soon they develop into friends. Dinners are cooked, garden and home baked produce is shared and I am included in the distribution of both local gossip and foul weather warnings.
There and Back Again
All too soon, the assignment is at an end but the good news is that we are already booked to come back – and soon. I spend a few weeks visiting family and collecting summer clothes from Cyprus before returning to Annie’s.
Another three months fly by. Le Marche emerges from winter hibernation. Wild flowers line every roadside and every town advertises its festas where the townsfolk gather to celebrate the coming into season of all manner of local produce. Old legs that hobbled on Winter streets find new life on dance floors as numerous accordian-led bands strike up their familiar oompah tunes.
Time to leave again
Before we know it, Annie has returned and it is time for us to leave. We have been here so long, it’s begun to feel like home and I wonder if I can still call myself a nomad.
Eddie happily jumps in the car and settles into her duvet. I say a tearful goodbye to Annie and Mac then off we go. That evening as I settle Eddie down on her duvet beside my bed in the first of many hotel rooms, I see the forlorn look on her face. And my heart nearly breaks. She is wondering what we are doing here and where Mac is. I am not the only one for whom Le Marche had started to feel like home.
In an instant we have gone from being part of a community to a stranger passing through. What if I ran off the road? Didn’t return to my hotel room? Would anybody notice? If people aren’t sure they remember us, were we ever really there?
Discovering new countries in our housesitting year
We enjoy two sunny late Summer weeks housesitting on the banks of the Dordogne River. While Eddie makes friends with our new client, Frisbee, I take the opportunity to visit local market towns. We aren’t here for long but I can still belong – even if my role in this community isn’t a speaking one.
At the market in Le Bugue, I buy a sample cup of coffee from one stall and a still-warm from the oven pain au raisin from another. Resting on the steps I enjoy my treats and watch smartly dressed ladies fill wicker baskets with cheeses, bread, fruit and vegetables – all locally produced. I do likewise, enjoying a proper kitchen where I cook instead of sitting alone in restaurants before returning to whichever hotel is home tonight. And inevitably the rotisserie stall proves too hard to resist. So I return to the house with a freshly roasted chicken – much to Eddie and Frisbee’s delight.
Another assignment comes to an end and it is time for another hop, skip and jump of hotels all the way down to Granada in Spain where we are due to spend three months caring for a donkey.
As with the trip from Italy to France, I see so many signs for fascinating sounding places and attractions. You can’t always plan excursions in a housesitting year. We catch glimpses of castles on hills or stunning vistas but there isn’t the time to stop. I make a mental note to look them up when we stop, and to visit them when I pass this way again – and hope my memory doesn’t fail me in the meantime.
An unexpected turn of events
Alas the three months in Spain doesn’t go quite to plan. A rat infestation brings the assignment to a premature end and I am suddenly faced with almost two months until I am due to return to Le Marche. At first it feels like a disaster. But soon Fate steps in. Back in the Dordogne a lovely English lady is let down at short notice and is facing the prospect of having to cancel her long awaited cruise.
I bundle Eddie into the car once more. And so we travel back North by a different route, so even though we have the time to spare we are not on the right road to visit all those places I spied driving down. Perhaps another trip and another housesitting year.
A warm welcome
Doreen’s lovely home and warm welcome are just what Eddie and I need after almost two weeks in hotels en route. I spend my days here collecting chestnuts and walnuts. Raking up Autumn leaves and walking the grounds with Eddie and Doreen’s delightful little dog Sasha is wonderful. I add using a sit-on lawnmower to my growing list of talents, all in a housesitting year.
Another month goes by, Doreen returns from her cruise and we face another tearful goodbye. Eddie leaps into the front seat to be sure she isn’t left behind. I sense her disappointment that another wonderful place and new friend are being left behind. But I comfort us both with a promise. The promise is that not only will we return – as housesitters or friends – but that the next leg of our journey will bring us closer to, as they used to say in Cheers, a place where everybody knows our names.
Nothing compares with a housesitting welcome
Two days later we are back in Le Marche. No matter how comfy the bed, hotels with their other guests making noises at all hours of the night just aren’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. The friendliest hotels cannot compete with wagging tails, homeowner hugs, a home-cooked meal and an evening in front of the log fire with new old friends.
As Frank Sinatra used to sing “It’s so nice to go travelling, but it’s so much nicer to come home” – even if that home belongs to someone else.